Does your baby have frequent hiccups? Are you wondering whether baby hiccups are normal, or whether it’s a sign of reflux, gas or other health concerns?
Are Baby Hiccups Normal?
Hiccups in infants can be especially confusing.
As adults, we tend to feel quite irritated by hiccups. So naturally we assume our infants are equally bothered.
Although babies can’t tell us whether hiccups are bothering them or not, most infants don’t cry or become extremely fussy.
What Are Hiccups?
Hiccups occur when something causes the diaphragm to go into spasm.
The vocal cords shut quickly. Air is then pushed through the closed vocal chords and this creates the sound.
On their own, baby hiccups aren’t considered a health concern.
Babies also tend to get them more frequently than adults.
This is because babies are more prone to gulping, gasping or doing other things that can cause the diaphragm to spasm.
What Causes Newborn Hiccups?
Interestingly enough, we’re not certain why anyone gets hiccups.
We do know they happen even before a baby is born. Hiccups are simply a part of life, even inside the mother’s womb.
The diaphragm is a muscle that lies below the lungs. This muscle moves up and down as a person breathes.
Newborns can have pauses in their breathing. They might gasp occasionally after a pause, and they might gulp during feeds.
These changes in how they take in air might be the reason they’re a bit more prone to hiccups than adults are.
Although they can occur for apparently no reason, newborn hiccups are sometimes associated with:
- Eating quickly
- Swallowing too much air while eating or crying.
One study, published in 2012, suggests the purpose of newborn hiccups is to force excess air out of the stomach.
The study’s author wrote:
“The hiccup is a very common reflex. I propose that hiccups are triggered by the presence of air in the stomach. This stimulates the sharp intake typical of the reflex, moving swallowed air out of the stomach and effectively ‘burping’ suckling infants, allowing them to consume a greater volume of milk in the meal. For adults, the infrequent annoying affliction reflects persistence of an infantile reflex and a reminder that we may have eaten too quickly.
“There is, as yet, no proof for this hypothesis, but hopefully it will stimulate some thought about this ubiquitous unexplained reflex”.
How Can You Stop Baby Hiccups?
There are endless suggestions for stopping hiccups.
Being startled, putting sugar on your tongue and drinking water, drinking upside down and many other remedies have been passed around.
As you might imagine, none of these is appropriate to try with an infant.
What can you do to try to stop baby hiccups?
The easiest thing is simply to wait it out. Many newborns aren’t bothered by hiccups, and they might not even interfere with their ability to rest.
Waiting out hiccups in an otherwise contented baby is safe. And the hiccups are likely to stop as quickly as they began.
If babies aren’t settling, or if parents are worried the hiccups are bothering them, here are some things to try:
- Offer a pacifier in the hope the sucking will interrupt the hiccups
- Try to burp the baby, in case trapped gas is triggering the hiccups
- Rub baby’s back, or try walking or rocking baby, in an attempt to help the baby relax and stop hiccupping.
There’s no tried and true remedy for stopping hiccups. Some sources suggest gripe water, but most professionals recommend only breastmilk or formula for the first 6 months of life.
Gripe waters, baby teas and other things might not seem like foods, but it’s important to give a baby only breast milk or formula, unless otherwise directed by your baby’s nurse or doctor.
How Can You Prevent Baby Hiccups?
There’s a good chance your little one had hiccups even before she was born. Preventing all bouts of hiccups might not be possible, especially as we aren’t sure what causes them.
Some people notice their little ones are more prone to hiccups when they’ve swallowed lots of air or are over-fed.
You might find the following helpful in reducing hiccups:
- Try to answer baby’s cues for hunger, comfort, etc. before she begins to cry and is difficult to console. Crying can cause babies to swallow a lot of air. It’s not possible to prevent all crying, but if you answer baby’s cues quickly, it might reduce overall crying.
- If you’re bottle feeding, be sure to pause to burp. If you’re breastfeeding and notice baby pulling off or appearing uncomfortable, pausing to burp might help. Many breastfed infants, however, do well without burping.
- Follow your baby’s cues for feeding, to avoid overfeeding. Babies should not be forced to finish a feed if they are uninterested.
Are Baby Hiccups A Sign Of Reflux, Tongue Tie Or Other Health Concerns?
You might be surprised to know about 80% of babies experience reflux, at least occasionally.
Reflux simply means the stomach contents are going back up into the esophagus. Reflux alone isn’t necessarily a health concern and can be part of normal infant physiology.
Babies have immature muscles, they are on a liquid diet and they spend quite a bit of time lying down. This makes reflux a part of a typical infant’s life.
What is of more concern is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This is when the stomach contents coming up into the esophagus are acidic. It’s essentially heartburn, and can be painful and cause problems for the baby.
Although many babies have reflux, only a few have GERD. New research even suggests the majority of infants who are medically treated for reflux or GERD don’t actually have elevated pH levels requiring medical treatment.
If hiccups are frequent, and you suspect reflux or GERD to be a problem, talk to your baby’s doctor and express your concerns.
A thorough exam, weight checks, and other observations can help you and the doctor decide whether or not the hiccups are related to GERD.
In most cases, hiccups are just a typical reflex. Minor reflux is a common part of infancy.
While some suggest hiccups could be a sign of tongue ties, there is no well-established clinical connection between the two.
If you have concerns your baby’s hiccups might be related to tongue tie, you can talk with the baby’s doctor or an ENT specialist, or ask a lactation consultant to observe your baby’s latching and feeding.